The nation’s public school curriculum may be in for a Texas-sized overhaul, if the Lone Star state’s influential recommendations for changes to social studies, economics and history textbooks are fully ratified later this spring. Last Friday, in a 10-to-5 vote split right down party lines, the Texas State Board of Education approved some controversial right-leaning alterations
to what most students in the state—and by extension, in much of the rest of the country—will be studying as received historical and social-scientific wisdom. After a public comment period, the board will vote on final recommendations in May.
Don McElroy, who leads the board’s powerful seven-member social conservative bloc
, explained that the measure
is a way of "adding balance" in the classroom, since "academia is skewed too far to the left." And the board's critics have labeled the move
an attempt by political "extremists" to "promote their ideology."
The revised standards have far-reaching implications because Texas is a huge market leader in the school-textbook industry. The enormous print run for Texas textbooks leaves most districts in other states adopting the same course materials, so that the Texas School Board effectively spells out requirements for 80 percent of the nation’s textbook market. That means, for instance, that schools in left-leaning states like Oregon and Vermont could soon be teaching from textbooks that are short on references to Ted Kennedy
but long on references to conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly.
Here are some of the other signal shifts that the Texas Board endorsed last Friday:
- A greater emphasis on “the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s.”
This means not only increased favorable mentions of Schlafly, the founder of the antifeminist Eagle Forum, but also more discussion of the Moral Majority
, the Heritage Foundation
, the National Rifle Association and Newt Gingrich's Contract With America.
- A reduced scope for Latino history and culture.
A proposal to expand such material in recognition of Texas’ rapidly growing Hispanic population was defeated in last week’s meetings—provoking one board member, Mary Helen Berlanga, to storm out in protest. "They can just pretend this is a white America and Hispanics don’t exist," she said of her conservative colleagues on the board. "They are rewriting history, not only of Texas but of the United States and the world."
- Changes in specific terminology.
Terms that the board’s conservative majority felt were ideologically loaded are being retired. Hence, “imperialism” as a characterization of America’s modern rise to world power is giving way to “expansionism,” and “capitalism” is being dropped in economic material, in favor of the more positive expression “free market.” (The new recommendations stress the need for favorable depictions of America’s economic superiority across the board.)
- A more positive portrayal of Cold War anticommunism.
Disgraced anticommunist crusader Joseph McCarthy, the Wisconsin senator censured by the Senate
for his aggressive targeting of individual citizens and their civil liberties on the basis of their purported ties to the Communist Party, comes in for partial rehabilitation. The board recommends that textbooks refer to documents published since McCarthy’s death and the fall of the Soviet bloc that appear to show expansive Soviet designs to undermine the U.S. government.
- Language that qualifies the legacy of 1960s liberalism.
Great Society programs such as Title IX—which provides for equal gender access to educational resources—and affirmative action, intended to remedy historic workplace discrimination against African-Americans, are said to have created adverse “unintended consequences” in the curriculum’s preferred language.
- Thomas Jefferson no longer included among writers influencing the nation’s intellectual origins.
Jefferson, a deist who helped pioneer the legal theory of the separation of church and state, is not a model founder in the board’s judgment. Among the intellectual forerunners to be highlighted in Jefferson’s place: medieval Catholic philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas, Puritan theologian John Calvin and conservative British law scholar William Blackstone. Heavy emphasis is also to be placed on the founding fathers having been guided by strict Christian beliefs.
- Excision of recent third-party presidential candidates Ralph Nader (from the left) and Ross Perot (from the centrist Reform Party).
Meanwhile, the recommendations include an entry listing Confederate General Stonewall Jackson as a role model for effective leadership, and a statement from Confederate President Jefferson Davis accompanying a speech by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln.
- A recommendation to include country and western music among the nation’s important cultural movements.
The popular black genre of hip-hop is being dropped from the same list.
None of these proposals has met with final ratification from the board—that vote will come in May, after a prolonged period of public comment on the recommendations. Still, the conservatives clearly feel like the bulk of their work is done; after the 120-page draft was finalized last Friday, Republican board member Terri Leo declared that it was "world class" and "exceptional."
—Brett Michael Dykes is a national affairs writer for Yahoo! News